Vineyard Wind 1 Comes Online, Still Faces Lawsuits
The Vineyard Wind 1 project came online on 2 January, while appeals in several lawsuits against it remain pending.
On 2 January, the Vineyard Wind 1 project started producing power for the United States grid, becoming the second commercial-scale offshore wind project to do so after South Fork Wind came online in December 2023. This significant milestone comes as the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considers appeals in several lawsuits brought against the Vineyard project.
Vineyard Wind 1, which is approximately 15 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, began operating one wind turbine earlier this month, but developers are installing an additional 61 turbines, for a total capacity of 800 MW. When fully operational, the facility is expected to supply enough renewable energy to power 400,000 homes.
While developers work to bring Vineyard Wind 1 up to capacity, the project remains the subject of several lawsuits. Most recently, on 3 January, the federal government filed its response brief in Melone v. Coit, asking the First Circuit to uphold the trial court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) allowing for the nonlethal incidental take of up to 20 North Atlantic right whales was not arbitrary or capricious. The plaintiff, a part-time resident of Martha’s Vineyard and solar-farm developer, challenged NMFS’s issuance of the IHA, alleging that it violated the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA).
The MMPA permits “the incidental, but not intentional, taking by harassment of small numbers of marine mammals of a species of population stock” if NMFS “finds that such harassment during each period concerned will have a negligible impact on such species or stock.” The MMPA does not define “small numbers;” rather, NMFS makes this determination based on whether the number of individuals taken annually from a specified activity is small relative to the population size. NMFS has stated that it considers one-third of a species’ population to be the upper limit of “small numbers.” In September 2018, Vineyard Wind requested that NMFS issue an IHA allowing it to “take,” by harassment, a small number of marine mammals incidental to project construction. NMFS determined that the noise from pile-driving could impact up to 20 North Atlantic right whales (about 5.4% of the population), concluded that the project construction would therefore have a negligible impact on marine species, and granted the IHA.